Conservative group known for hardball tactics leads charge in Kavanaugh defense

Brittany Shepherd
National Politics Reporter
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Susan Walsh/AP)

WASHINGTON — A conservative group that has aided the confirmation of President Trump’s judicial nominees is now leading the Republican Party’s charge against the most recent allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

On Sunday afternoon, the Article III Project, led by Mike Davis, a key attorney in shepherding Kavanaugh’s confirmation, sent talking points to the White House. He also sent the memo to key congressional offices and a number of outside GOP groups in an effort to discredit reporting from the New York Times alleging that, while at Yale, classmate Max Stier witnessed Kavanaugh “push his penis into the hand of” a female student.

The talking points memo, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, was sent to the White House counsel’s office, the White House press shop, the Republican National Committee and conservative-leaning outside groups such as the Heritage Foundation. None of these groups responded to requests for comment by time of publication.

A source close to the effort told Yahoo News that most of the talking points have aided GOP rapid response via Twitter and inspired conservative outlets and writers in their second-day articles, including one that ran in the Washington Examiner. (The Examiner reporter did not respond to a request for comment.) And while it’s unclear if the White House has distilled these points in any of its official guidances, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere retweeted one such article shared by Article III on his personal Twitter account.

“These [talking points] have been moved far and wide,” the source said. “How people are using them are up to them.”

Article III, which was established in May, has taken an aggressive approach to defending conservative judicial nominations. Davis, its president, told the New York Times earlier this year that the organization’s plan was to “put on the brass knuckles and fight back.”

The talking points, which focus on undermining the credibility of the accusers and those who broke the news of the allegations, are very much in that vein.

The talking points are separated into categories, the first addressing the Senate Judiciary Committee’s handling of allegations by Kavanaugh’s Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez, who said that during a dorm party in the early 1980s, he “thrust his penis in her face,” which forced her to “touch it without her consent.” Those allegations were first published in the New Yorker in September 2018. The Supreme Court justice denies those allegations.

In response, the talking points focus on the response from Sen. Chuck Grassley, then the Judiciary Committee chairman, who insisted, based on an FBI and staff investigation, that there was no corroboration of the alleged misconduct or assault by Kavanaugh.

“In the course of the investigation, staff members spoke with 35 individuals, a task that required extensive work during nights and weekends. More than 20 Committee staffers contributed to the investigative efforts,” the memo says. “The Committee never received any evidence that would corroborate the claims made by Dr. Ford, Ms. Ramirez, Ms. Swetnick or anybody else.”

Critics of the inquiry, including many Democratic lawmakers, have objected that the FBI as well as the committee did a rushed job, declining to contact witnesses who made themselves available for interviews.

Another segment of the memo focuses on the attempt to discredit Ramirez’s account specifically, pointing toward alleged holes in initial Times reporting, while also arguing that it was “partisan.”

The Times report, which was adapted from a new book by the reporters, fell under heavy criticism from both the left and right after it was published. The Times later issued an editor’s note noting that the original article left out the fact that the female student in question, upon being contacted by reporters, did not recollect such an incident — a detail that was included in the book.

The talking points memo comes as several Democratic presidential candidates have called for either new investigations into or impeachment of Kavanaugh, joining the voices who claim that the latest allegations prove that the justice lied under oath during hearings on the initial allegation between him and Christine Blasey Ford.

“Confirmation is not exoneration, and these newest revelations are disturbing,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted Sunday. “Like the man who appointed him, Kavanaugh should be impeached.”

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, like Warren a Democratic presidential contender, joined the calls to remove Kavanaugh.

“It’s more clear than ever that Brett Kavanaugh lied under oath. He should be impeached,” Castro tweeted. “And Congress should review the failure of the Department of Justice to properly investigate the matter.”

Yet going after Kavanaugh could prove to be a difficult maneuver for Congress, which is juggling several legislative priorities, including gun reform and a slowly advancing effort to impeach Trump. And even if the House of Representatives were able to pass articles of impeachment against Kavanaugh, the articles would be unlikely to get through a Republican-controlled Senate, the same barrier faced by those would like to pursue charges against Trump.

Still, the conflict is likely to be a new fault line in the Democratic primary, as some candidates are pulled to the more progressive wing.

Davis, in a statement to Yahoo News, characterized pushback from Democrats as “smears” and “lies,” while describing Article III’s actions as an attempt to counter those efforts.

“We are punching back against their attempts to intimidate and cow a sitting Supreme Court justice,” he wrote.

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